adventures in Thailand



BONG RETURNED is wonderful news for the school. She met with Peter, one of the founders of the Burmese Refugee Project, last week and was so impressed with BRP and the goals of our school that today she said she’d help in January. HURRAH. Even better, we’ve hired her to help us negotiate with the Ministry of Education where she has great contacts. Peter, she and I are going to Mae Hong Son, the province capital of the same name, one day this week to meet with officials.

ONE WEEK TO GO! At the moment we have 5 boys and 2 girls enrolled as paying students and will have 3-4 scholarship students from the Shan refugee community. That’s a credible number of students for our pilot. Chiang Mai Montessori opened with only 4, had 10 for 2nd semester and now, in its second year, has a waiting list.

The school is looking great. Most of the Montessori material is in place. Beth and I have been making loads of materials, especially in English since nearly everything I made at my workshop is in Thai. We’ve had 2-3 volunteers here every afternoon–Peter has recruited them, mostly from Ing Doi Guesthouse. They’ve painted the kitchen, part of the front of the building, the front gate and done many other small projects.

NEW HOUSE is still ready and waiting. Haven’t even been to it although in theory I was going to move in this past weekend. I’ve been in the school house for over 3 months and it feels like home. But definitely will be out of here before the kids arrive. Hopefully I’ll be moved in and quasi-set-up in order to have an small Open House/House Warming on New Year’s Day.

Hope all of you had a happy holiday. It was rather uneventful here in Pai, which was fine with me. Although there was a lovely dinner for guests (and a couple of friends like me) on Sunday evening.




“Shop ’til You Drop” and No Bong

Yesterday morning, Thursday, I spent 3.5 hours shopping for the school at Wawarot Market. It’s a huge area (about 5-6 city blocks square) filled with over a thousand vendors. You can find ANYTHING there, usually priced lower than anywhere else. Many small retailers shop there for their stores.

The day started with an large, empty duffel style suitcase on wheels. It was completely filled plus three large bags dangled from my hands by the end of the exhausting morning. Fortunately, about 80% of the shopping list was crossed-off. Would have loved to have bought china dishes and bowls there but they were too heavy to carry.

So do you want to know what filled the duffel? Best purchase was 25 small trays for our Montessori materials. Also got a handful of ceramic bowls and 10-12 straw baskets to complement the ones purchased there previously. For the sand box, 3 big plastic trucks–not sure of their quality, but will start with them and trade up eventually. Lots of kitchen stuff–knives, cleavers, silverware for the students, measuring cups, etc. We’ll buy the china and wok in Pai along with some other items. Little jars and bottles for our “smelling and tasting” area in Sensorial. Other stuff too numerous to mention.

For my new house, I bought some a couple of blue and white mugs and china bowls. Also a few other items. Had wanted to go to the mall for 3 errands but didn’t have time.

NO BONG – don’t worry, I’m not smoking marijuana. Bong is the nickname of the Thai teacher who had agreed to work part time at the school in Jan/Feb. We MUST have a Thai national in order to open. Upon my return from CM last night, I read an email from Bong, our Montessori teacher, decided not work here. BUMMER! She works part-time for the govt. schools and is afraid if she works for us—since we don’t have govt. approval yet–that it might affect her existing position. Will keep you posted on how we solve this latest crisis.



Kamikaze Driver and Wedding

Back in Pai after a a whirlwind trip to Chiang Mai–left 9 am on Weds. and returned by 6 pm.

KAMIKAZE DRIVER – This was 20th (?) one-way trip in the mini-van to/from Pai-CM if I count the times in 2009. Once in ’09 and earlier this trip I had what I call a “kamikaze driver.” Wednesday’s driver far exceeded any previous experience. It’s a miracle he didn’t crash the van.

There are t-shirts here that say, “Chiang to Pai: 137 kilometers/762 curves.” That gives you a good idea of the ride. The t-shirt fails to say that these curves are up and down two-lane mountain roads. There are at least two hair-pin turns that are about 345 degrees, no joke. Much worse than any road I’ve ever experienced on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the Rockies or Switzerland’s Alps. Picture dozens of slower motorbikes, big trucks crawling along with huge loads, old pick-up trucks that can barely get up the mts—then add a van driver who’s setting a new time record. (The ride is supposed to take 3 hours including a 15 minute rest stop.) This guy made it in 2 hours and 35 minutes. I was so upset and concerned that I wrote down info. from his speedometer—not in the mts. where the speed was simply  too fast for the curves–but on the straight-aways on the flat land outside of CM. He was going 125 kph (90 mph) in a commercial area with traffic. I spoke to someone in the office upon my arrival—he’s definitely a crash waiting to happen. In general, I don’t get motion sickness but I was nauseous on this ride as were many other passengers.

WEDDING – Wednesday night I had the pleasure of going to one of the most wonderful weddings I’ve ever attended. It was the marriage of an Italian couple whom I met via Chiang Mai Montessori School through their two year old twin daughters. Although Italian, they created a traditional Thai wedding. It took place in their amazing rental home that could be on the cover of Architectural Digest. Stefania sketched her dress and similiar ones for the little girls and had a dressmaker create them. They were beautiful: vibrant green silk with lovely, floor-length purple scarves and silver accents. The house itself is a work of art but it was augmented with amazing flowers (many in long strings of white blossoms hanging from the ceiling), including beautiful arrangements of white petals and votive candles on the floor in most corners. (As an aside–after the ceremony a Thai woman  tapped me on the shoulder to warn me that my long dress was about to catch fire–hadn’t noticed how close my hem was to several candles.)

The traditional Thai wedding began with relatives/friends of the groom going outside the house and parading in. (I joined the group since I know Fred and thought it would be fun to be a participant, not an observer). We stood in the wide road (not much traffic in the private enclave, luckily), lined up with relatives in front, then friends, and, finally, 5 Thai percussionists and 2 traditionally-dressed women dancers. They had drums and gongs and one of the men occasionally sang (quasi-shouted) some sounds. We wove our way down the street, up the driveway and into the house. In order to enter, Fred had to hand pink envelopes with money in them to several people—symbolizing paying for his bride. The remainder of the guests watched the procession.

Stefania and Fred (Federico) with twins on their laps sat in chairs in the front and a Thai man chanted a long ceremony—amazing voice that often went into falsetto. Then each guest, starting with the close relatives, tied a white string around the individual wrists of the bride and groom.  Traditionally, the strings are kept on for 7 days–but Fred laughed that his hand would fall off if it stayed on that long. He commented that the strings were Thai size, not Farang (Western) size.  The little girls behaved extremely well during the ceremony and throughout the evening.

Prior to the ceremony there were Thai appetizers and a bar next to the pool that remained opening throughout the evening. Speaking of the pool, it’s in the center of the home which is open air (mostly without walls on the interior side) and located in the center of the home’s “U” configuration. The florist had made five huge (perhaps a yard/meter in diameter) balls of flowers that floated in the lit pool. Gorgeous.

Then the guests enjoyed fantastic Thai food served in the garden where there about 10 “stations” offering two different dishes at each location. There were two “chefs” at each station serving the food and in most cases actually cooking the food in woks on burners on the ground and putting out the hot morsels. Everything was yummy and the guests “grazed” throughout the evening.

In case all that wasn’t enough to create a magical evening, there was a band of five Thais on traditional instruments sitting at the end of the pool plus four dancers (two female, two male) who performed four or five times throughout the evening, sometimes together and sometimes women or men only. They wore different costumes each time and did different dance styles. The most amazing, in my opinion, was one performance by the two men that combined choreographed muay boxing (the kick boxing of Thailand). They wore pantaloons and were bare-chested with tied scarves on their heads and big medallions hanging around their necks. It was very physical and included four or five “lifts” where one dancer “kicked” his opponent and then wound up standing on his shoulders or bent knees. Very impressive.

Fred is in the film industry, a producer, and the evening was beautifully produced. His business partner, Chris, quasi-directed the evening, telling us when to line-up for the parade, how to tie the strings on the couple, etc. Chris is American with a Thai wife.  Stefania is a journalist (she writes for a couple of Italian newspapers and a few magazines, including Italian Vogue) in addition to raising the twins. (She told me she writes from 8 pm to 1 a.m.–and is always tired.)

Although this is running long, I must add one more thing that added to my enjoyment. As  many of you know I love speaking Italian and am quite fluent. Stef’s parents spoke no English so I spent a lot of time with them, sometimes translating which was fun. They’re a lovely couple (as are Fred’s parents) and they really appreciated that there was a guest  who could communicate with them. All of Fred’s relatives (parents, brother and his family) spoke perfect English. Fred grew up in South Africa but spoke Italian at home and his sibling lives in Texas.

Well, this is 1,100 words—above my usual limit. Hope you didn’t mind and enjoyed it anyway. There’s more to come–am going to write another entry now called “Shop ’til You Drop.”


Found a GREAT house to rent!

For some reason my blog posts seem to come in spurts. Guess I have to be in the mood to write–and find the time. Here’s the third post in two days after a month’s silence. The same thing happened a couple months ago.

My big news: found a fabulous rental house today. WIll move in this weekend, Dec. 24. It’s a 5 minute walk from the school, halfway between school and Bueng Pai Farm, my favorite spot where I’ve been eating 1 or 2 meals a week.

It’s a stone house–very unusual here–and I’m told the stone exterior makes the house cooler in hot weather and warmer in cool weather. It’s quite large—big living room with beautiful blue tile floors, good size bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a separate building (about 10′ x 10′) that Thais use as a kitchen but I’ll make into a guest room or office. There’s enough furniture to get by altho’ I’ll add some to it, including (most likely) a good mattress to replace what’s on the queen size bed now. Let me know if you want a photo from my iPad. [Someday I might actually learn how to post pictures on the blog.]

The home’s front faces a small irrigation pond [mosquito breeding area!] and rice fields on the other side of the quiet road. Behind the house is a mango orchard of at least 20 or 30 trees. The trees are quite small (about 6-7 feet tall) so am not sure if they produce fruit yet. But we have 3-4 mature mango trees at the school–am greatly looking forward to mango season this spring altho’ its prime might occur when I’m in the USA. On that subject, just noticed a big bunch (hand?) of bananas on one of the trees at the school. Hope to have someone cut them down on Saturday.

Another plus about the house is that a new friend, Dorina from Germany, is going to rent a smaller house right next door. So I’ll have a lovely neighbor. She’s a naturopath (sp?), occupational therapist and acupuncturist who does innovative work with special needs children. Very interesting woman with a vibrant and bubbly personality.

Another bit of news is that on Saturday at 11 a.m. we’re going to offer a free performance to families interested in the school (and others). A woman who had applied to work here–but had no Montessori experience–is in Thailand on holiday and offered to present a show that combines puppets, songs, finger plays and who knows what else. Am very excited!

In conclusion, let’s hope you read the next post sooner rather than later. On Wednesday I’m attending what I expect to be a fabulous wedding in Chiang Mai. An Italian couple with two-year-old twins who attend Chiang Mai Montessori School which is where we met. Their rental house–where the ceremony and party take place–could be on the cover of Architectural Digest. It’s amazing: U-shaped, open-air (no walls on interior of U) with a salt water pool in the middle of the U. She’s a journalist and he’s a film maker. Very interesting couple to say the least. Stay tuned…


School, cont. & MORE

Let’s take advantage of the computer while it’s working properly.

We still have a lot to get ready for our opening on January 2 or 3. We have to build a playground (swings, etc), put up fencing, make a sand box or sand area, change our three side door steps to four narrower steps and put in a railing, and lots more. Also, there are still things to purchase such as an easel, plates and silverware, etc. Montessori believes in using REAL things, not plastic. So we have glasses made of glass and will have ceramic plates. [If anyone would like to underwrite the purchase of the easel or any specific Montessori material, just let me know.]

Beyond the school…last weekend was my birthday which was celebrated with a lovely and delicious dinner at Ing Doi Guesthouse on Sunday evening. Ing Doi is where I stayed for seven weeks upon arrival in Pai. It’s owned by my friend Dianna’s son and daughter-in-law who’s an amazing cook. Jake’s a great baker–he made cheesecake. Several friends joined us. Saturday and Sunday nights were spent at Bueng Pai Farm, my favorite place in Thailand. That was my b-day gift to myself. Although I hope to buy myself another present if I can find it in Chiang Mai next week–a terry cloth bathrobe.

Speaking of CM—am going there next week for one or two nights in order to attend a friend’s wedding. Actually, in her email she called it her “ehm….marriage” though later an email wedding invitation arrived. She and her partner have twin girls who’ll be 2 on New Year’s Eve. We met at the Chiang Mai Montessori School and really hit off. So much in common—she’s a journalist who has done public relations, she’s Italian (I’m an Italian wannabe) as is her husband-to-be, she ushered at LaScala while at university. Their rental home (where the wedding will take place) is amazing—it could be on the cover of Architectural Digest. It’s open air with a salt-water swimming pool in the middle of the home’s U shape. Fred, her husband, is a fabulous cook (he’s planning to open an Italian restaurant in CM in February) and a commercial and film maker. Should be a fun party after the ceremony.

Well, it looks like my laptop cooperated; the screen didn’t disappear. So now I’m off to Bueng Pai Farm, a 10 minute walk from the school, to have lunch and bring back delicious soup for Beth to have later.

If you have time/interest, it would be great to hear from you either on the blog or at my personal email address.  I MISS MY FRIENDS & FAMILY but do love living in Pai.

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School’s shaping up!

Our school house (a rented three-bedroom home) is beginning to look like a school. Last week we had most of the furniture delivered—in a Montessori classroom that means shelves and more shelves. All of the Montessori materials are placed on trays on open shelves so that the students can choose what they’d like to work with. We had ordered 20 shelves and wound up with 17 after “quality control.” Luckily there were over 30 units to review by me prior to delivery. Those with big knots or discoloration were rejected. We’ll probably have to get about 10 more shelves eventually. They look great filled with the Montessori materials that I made at the workshop in Chiang Rai along with the many practical life materials that purchased.

We also received two low bamboo tables for our lunch area, a small corner unit for books and two big compartmentalized bookshelves that are turned on their sides to create “cubbies” for the children. The cubbies are on our lovely front porch and the lunch tables in the car port. We found little wooden stools at the Wednesday market that are just the right side for the bamboo lunch tables.

Beth, our new Montessori teacher, arrived nearly two weeks ago. She’s a huge help and will be a great addition to the school.   She and I are busy making lots of classroom material. We download artwork and Montessori materials from the internet, print it at the internet shop, mount it on colored paper, get in laminated, then cut the materials to the correct size. Very time consuming.  But the classroom is filling up with wonderful materials for the children to use.

Last week we had two parents’ meetings that went very well. This week we’re having individual families come by with their children. It looks like we’ll have a very multicultural school which is one of our goals. At the parents’ meetings there were two Japanese families and one Russian mother. Plus we’ve have parents who are Thai, British, American and Australian. And, of course, about one third of our students will be Burmese refugees known as Thai Yai.

If you want to learn a bit more about Montessori, go to Youtube and type in Montessori. There are many informative posts about how the classroom is set up, the five areas of “work” and so forth.

My computer is acting very weird—there’s been a problem with the screen for a couple of months. In my usual fashion, I’ve been ignoring it. However, I’ll send this out now in case the screen disappears. Will continue in another post. Hopefully.